A long time ago, there was a valley, deep in the jungle. The valley had steep sides, cascading waterfalls and abundant fruit, animals of every variety and on one end, a small clearing.
In this clearing, there was a village.
The people of the village had a simple life. They spent their days foraging, fishing in the many rivers the valley offered, and hunting only as much meat as they needed. Because of this, they would use every part of the animal. Every part except for the heart.
The heart, they believed, was sacred. The heart was for their God.
There was a God, the men said, that lived in the valley with them. It could pad quietly as a jaguar, and scream like the same. It's arms were like snakes, tipped with their fangs and sinuously winding, striking like the wind and pulling back through the trees. It had the eyes of a spider, eight staring dull-green orbs. But it's mouth, when opened, revealed row after row of human teeth.
The boys of the village found this tale scary in the same way that all children find such things, a nightmare, no more real than the ghosts of their ancestors hiding in the trees. But once a year, a boy and a girl were chosen to become adults, and that's when the story became real.
The boy was taken aside by his father, and told the truth. The God did exist. The God was immortal. And the boy was going to be hunting the God.
The elders would enchant the girl, lay her into a drugged sleep, put her away into a hut with a low-burning fire and come before the boy.
The heart, boy. You must find the God. You must fight it. And you must cut out its heart and bring it back here. If you do not, terrible things will befall our village. She will only awake when you bring back the heart. We will all eat it. And you will be a man.
This happened each year without fail. The boy would go out. He would be gone for a while; sometimes only a day, more often a week or two. Then, one day he would stumble back into the village, dragging a mat made of reeds behind him, and on it a giant heart.
The village would rejoice. The girl would awaken. The feast would begin. The children who were not adults would crowd the new man and ask him, insist: it was an elephant wasn't it? There is no God. There is no monster.
The new man would only stare quietly back at them. He would not speak for days. When he tried, it was as though he was only learning once more. And he would never tell what happened.
This year, the boy who was to become a man was the chief's son. He was given a blade, made of the black mountain glass, and a water pouch, made of a bladder. He was told the story. He was sent into the woods.
But the boy did not believe.
The boy at first tried. He wandered into the woods. He looked for the God's tracks. He jumped at every sound. A jaguar's scream was always just that. Each snake, terminated in a tail, not at the trunk of a massive beast. Spiders were everywhere, but none walked and talked like a man.
At night he felt that something must be watching him, but there was never anything there.
And so the boy wandered. He swam in the rivers. He ate fruit and spit seeds out into the spider's webs. He took naps, soaking the sun as it beat down from him. And after what he felt was long enough, he found and killed an elephant, taking it's heart and heading towards his village.
It was night when he arrived. There was no one awake, but this was not unusual, the animals kept at bay by an ever burning fire and their fear of the spears the villagers used. The boy took his heart and took it to the hut where the sleeping girl lay. Dropping it at the entrance, he turned and headed for his own hut, stretching out on his mat, to sleep and wake to the glory of his return.
The boy awoke. He stretched, listening for the joyous drums that he was sure must burst out at any moment. Nothing stirred. He yawned loudly, sure that his father or another would hear him outside and announce his return. Nothing. Angrily, he stood up and thrust himself out the door, puffing his chest as he felt that real men must.
He trod on something.
It was a heart.
The ground in front of him was scattered with hearts. Human sized, not the ones that the hunters took from their prey, nor the massive elephantine one he had brought back last night. He realized that everyone in his village was dead.
And the God was there.
It hunched in the mud before him, sitting on its haunches but still a full head over him. There was no neck, the eyes and its massive rip of a mouth set right into its torso. Around it, what looked like ropes were piled, twisting and writhing through one another. But each led back to the body, arms locked in a never ending knot.
It opened its mouth and the boy saw its endless rows of tiny, human teeth. It spoke.
You did not find me, it said. You did not believe. You did not follow those jaguar back to their lair, nor track the snakes to see where they had come from. You did not trust your family. You did not return their love.
It said all this and then it said, And. And. And. And it's skin was off, and it was an old, old man, kneeling before the boy.
And you must be punished.
And the God looked down at the man, tears in its many eyes. The God looked around at the hearts of it's people, not even watching as the man walked off into the forest, not caring that the man was gone, not knowing what to do.
The God did see the hearts. The God knew what to do then.
The girl awoke two days later, the village quiet. She walked out into the clearing in the center of her village and looked around. No one was there. The boy, the chief, the elders and all of the children were gone. There was nothing left.
Not quite nothing. As she walked back to her hut, she noticed something on the ground. It had the look of a scrap of meat. She picked it up, looked closer and dropped it, turning to run from the village into the jungle.
The meat was only a scrap. But it had been knawed, chewed, by thousands of teeth.
Happy Valentine's Day.